Simpson: Fishing and alligators

June 27, 2012 

— Rising swirls of misty vapors filled the night shrouded woods as the Ford pickup’s headlights pierced the inky gloom of pre-dawn hours. It requires the questionable mentality of either duck hunters or fishermen to abandon a comfortable bed to go forth to face the damp gloom before the morning stars fade in an awakening day.

It requires considerable gear to go fishing. Aside from boat, motor, fuel, dip net, anchor, life jackets and bait, there are other essentials; most will remain unused, but are important to peace of mind. Spare rod and reel with likely lures, not to mention some fresh worms and grubs, sandwiches and drinks.

The sliver pink of dawn was in the east, the air calm, wispy fog swirled atop black waters. While at the landing loading the John boat we noticed movement, what appeared to be a mostly submerged log was rising from the waters a few yards offshore. Two knobby protuberances breaking the surface looked us over. It was “George,” the alligator, on morning patrol. “George” is a five, or so, foot long gator that hangs out in nearby marshes, probably aware fishermen often discard bait or dead or injured fish in the vicinity of the landing. One can almost count on this critter to be waiting near the landing every morning about daylight, disappearing for the day whenever boat traffic builds up.

As we idled out into the quiet waters we became aware of still another “log,” maybe 500 feet distant, silently surfacing, a mama gator, a big one. I estimated it over 12, Gene, the marine biologist, argued it would measure closer to 15 feet or more, definitely bigger than our skiff.

Carolina’s Wildlife folks are getting right nervous about some ignoramuses messing with these powerful, wild and legally protected critters. Lots of folks are surprised to discover that alligators, elusive, secretive, live in relative abundance the full length of coastal Carolina. They avoid man, whenever possible, but will defend nest and young if threatened.

There are no known records showing ’gators attacking or killing humans in North Carolina, but more than one person has been well chomped and I’d sure ’nuff prefer not to have one on the end of my rod. Once a big female did rise close alongside our boat, looking us over. I figured someone had been feeding her and she was expecting a handout. I’d suggest keeping extremities (and food) close aboard the boat.

There was an obituary on Sunday, June 17, announcing that Franc White had terminated his voyage along life’s trail. It was a great honor to regard Franc as a longtime friend who one could look up to. He consistently demonstrated an unwavering example of the principals of sportsmanship, not the competitive kind, but proudly setting an example, leading and spreading the conservationist ethic. I am referring to a man with an acute sense of observation, which he used for the common good of all, in the creation of entertaining and informative films and writing, educating millions of dedicated followers and admirers that extended from sea to shining sea.

Franc White met the highest standards for those of us who find a deep appreciation for the world that surrounds us. As a close friend, fishing and hunting companion, he set new standards. I’ve had the honor of his company while trout and small mouth bass fishing the waters from Carolina’s Linville Gorge to floundering in the back waters of Portsmouth Island. Together, by canoe, we hunted moose in Canada’s backwaters and followed the hounds seeking wild boar in Georgia. Franc did it all, but more important, he was recognized nationally as a leading conservationist, the highest tribute that can be made.

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